Public education in Georgia has had a rough time the last couple of years. Clayton County Schools are on the verge of losing their accreditation for the second time in four years. DeKalb County and Atlanta City schools have been warned by the accrediting agency SACS to shape up their operations. Governor Deal recently removed the entire school board of a South Georgia County. Cheating scandals in Atlanta City Schools and Doughtery County gained worldwide attention and tarnished Georgia’s image. Closer to home, barely two-thirds of our students, even students in my home county of Gwinnett, manage to graduate high school in four years. Thousands of other students walking out of our high schools with diplomas must take remedial classes when they get to college because they aren’t ready for college level work. Our best students can compete with the best students from anywhere in the world but far too many are not receiving the education they need.
The idea of charter schools has been around since the late 1980′s. In 1993, Georgia passed it’s first charter school bill, allowing local school districts to convert existing schools into charter schools if they so desired. In 1998 the law was expanded to allow local school districts to create new charter schools within their districts. Sadly, few districts took advantage of these laws.
As of 2008, there were only 71 charter schools in Georgia. The Legislature formed a study committee to look at how other States authorized charter schools and proposed that a State level authorizing entity be formed. 32 other States allow other entities to authorize charter schools, many at the State level. Groups as diverse as the National Association of Educators, the National PTA, and Americans For Prosperity support the concept of alternate authorizing entities for charter schools.
The Legislature took up this idea and in 2008 passed House Bill 881, creating the Georgia Charter Schools Commission with the authority to hear appeals from charter applicants who had been rejected by their local school system. During the three years it operated, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission heard 56 appeals and approved only 16. During that same period, local school boards approved over a hundred charter applications, suggesting the law was doing what it was intended to do: encourage local school boards to approve good quality charter school applications.
Based on a lawsuit filed by Gwinnett County Schools, the State Supreme Court ruled HB881 unconstitutional. In response to the Supreme Court ruling the Legislature proposed House Resolution 1162 which seeks to amend the State Constitution to reaffirm the State’s proper Constitutional role in education. Article VIII of the Georgia Constitution says “The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia.” Since education is a primary obligation of the State, we as citizens of this State can choose how we want to fulfill that obligation and make changes if what we are doing isn’t working. It is not only our right to make changes if our present system isn’t working, it’s our responsibility.
Voting Yes on Amendment 1 will recreate the Georgia Charter School Commission and bring us back to the system we had from 2008 – 2011 where charter applicants were assured of fair treatment by local school boards by allowing for an appeal should their application be rejected by a local school board.
Ultimately this isn’t about school budgets, local control, or even how we adults feel. It’s about the students and are we doing all we can to give them the best educational opportunities. Charter schools won’t “fix” all our problems in Georgia, but they will provide another option for parents and students who feel they need one.
Some of the posts I’ve written about Amendment 1 at Peach Pundit:
Today’s Charter Amendment Opposition Misinformation: They’re Trying To Create A Third Authorizer!
Today’s Charter Amendment Opponent Misinformation: “Vote No To State Controlled Schools”
Today’s Charter Amendment Opponent Misinformation: No, We’re Not Using Taxpayer Funds To Oppose The Amendment, Why Would You Think That?
Today’s Charter Amendment Opponent Misinformation: The State Can Already Create New Charter Schools So Vote No!
Taxpayers Not Left Holding The Bag When Charter Schools Close
Gwinnett Chamber Moves To Neutral, PTA Revises Position In Charter Debate
As The School Year Begins A Lesson Is Needed On The Difference Between An Apple And An Orange
More On The Flawed Logic Of Banning State Charter Schools